HP is expected to demonstrate on Wednesday a breakthrough computer project from HP Labs known internally as “The Machine.”
HP confirmed to Business Insider the new computer will be the highlight of a keynote speech by CEO Meg Whitman and CTO Martin Fink, the head of HP Labs, at the company’s HP Discover customer conference this week in Las Vegas.
The Machine is a project that, if successful, could replace a giant data center worth of gear with a computer the size of a refrigerator, reports Businessweek’s Ashlee Vance.
Basically, it uses a new homegrown operating system, a new superfast way to transfer data that uses light (i.e. photonics) instead of the copper wiring traditionally used by Ethernet cables and a whole new kind of memory called “memristors.”
A memristor is a type of memory that HP says is faster and more efficient than flash memory. Its claim to fame is that it doesn’t lose data even when a device loses power or runs out of battery. HP isn’t the only company working on these technologies, although it is a particular pioneer on the science of memristors.
Assembling all of these brand new technologies into a new type of computer is almost a “Back To The Future” type of strategy.
Decades ago, big computer manufacturers like HP and IBM made all their own pieces and parts for the computers they sold. But companies don’t want to be locked into one vendor’s proprietary wares. Standards for hardware and software emerged that allowed enterprises to mix and match computers, networking and software from different vendors. From that rose commodity hardware. And with the rise of cloud computing, big companies like Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft now build their own servers and storage devices from these commodity parts. Their home-built computers cost them far less money, and when any parts break, they can be easily fixed or replaced.
Facebook is even leading a consortium called the Open Compute Project to give these cheap hardware designs to anyone who wants them for free.
So convincing corporations to ditch commodity hardware and buy a brand new type of machine from HP won’t be easy.
But HP couldn’t resist the urge to try — these new technologies are all so powerful.
The story goes, about a year and a half ago, Fink and his colleagues gave a presentation to Whitman asking for her backing for the project. Their presentation lasted two hours, during which time they told her that as many as 75% of those employed by HP Labs would be assigned to the project. Vance reports:
“At the end, Meg turned to [Chief Financial Officer] Cathie Lesjak and said, ‘Find them more money,'” said John Sontag, the VP of systems research at HP in charge of bringing The Machine to life (he also attended the meeting). “People in Labs see this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
If The Machine succeeds, the computer likely won’t be ready to be sold on commercial markets for a couple of years, according to Vance. But it looks like HP is having enough success to start talking publicly about it.
Stay tuned. We’ll be watching the keynote speech and will report on what we see.